BRUSSELS — A major reason Vice President Pence will attend the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea next month: He is worried North Korea's Kim Jong Un will “hijack the Olympics . . . in terms of optics and messaging,” and he wants to be able to provide a fact-based counter, according to a senior White House official.
“He has grave concerns that Kim will hijack the messaging around the Olympics. The North Koreans have been master manipulators in the past,” a senior White House official told reporters aboard Air Force Two on Tuesday as the vice president returned to the United States from a trip to the Middle East. “It’s a murderous state.”
The official did not want to be identified, as he discussed the internal discussions. Pence plans to speak “truth on the world stage, which is the opposite of what the North Koreans do,” the official said.
“I think a lot of vice presidents in the past have gone ceremoniously to the Olympics, and that’s what they do and that’s great. They cut the ribbon. Check the box,” the official said. “We wouldn’t be making this trip if that’s what it was about.”
The official said the vice president and his staff were alarmed by news this week that South Koreans were dazzled by the arrival of Hyon Song Wol, a singer in North Korea's all-female Moranbong Band and a rising political star in Kim's regime. She led a seven-member delegation to inspect Olympic facilities in the South where the North's Samjiyon orchestra will play on its visit during the games next month. Twenty-two North Korean athletes will compete.
The official said the vice president's message on stunts like this would be something along the lines of this: “There’s nothing cute or nice or touching about what this man is doing.”
In addition to ensuring the Olympics are not “turned into two weeks of propaganda,” the official said the vice president is also excited to “root on our Olympians.”
The vice president plans to travel a lot in the coming months. Internationally, Pence could travel to as many as 10 countries on behalf of the president, and, domestically, he has already booked about 30 political events tied to the 2018 midterm elections. This effort kicks off Friday, when Pence plans to spend half a day at the Republican National Committee office calling donors and will host a fundraiser.